Rachael has had an intense love for science fiction and fantasy games, TV shows, movies, and books since childhood.
Why the Hate for Disney Adults?
As an autistic adult with "special interests" that many people consider childish, I felt personally attacked by Wisecrack's videos, Reddit threads, and other content I've seen blowing up online recently about the phenomenon of "Disney adults". Now, "Disney adults" as far as I can tell are just a derogatory term for adult fans of Disney movies or theme parks or both. It's unflattering as a term, because it implies (falsly) that Disney fandom is only for children in the first place. A lot of people have that perception.
Disney is Kid-Friendly, Not Kid-Exclusive
The truth is more subtle; Walt Disney himself never imagined his theme parks or films or cartoons as only enjoyable by kids. He made these things with the whole family in mind; they were meant to be kid-friendly, but not kid-exclusive. There's a big difference there that people don't understand.
And as an adult, I have a greater appreciation for Disney movies now. I can enjoy and talk about them and understand them on a higher level now. I get the Greek mythology jokes I missed in Hercules as a kid. I understand how Lilo and Stitch is a metaphor for Hawaii's history itself. I could talk for days about the psychological implications of an emotion-laden film such as Encanto or Inside Out.
News Flash: Adults Have Expendable Income
I also now have more expendable income with which to enjoy Disney things, including taking a trip to both Disney World and Universal Studios Florida last year. I had gotten to go to Disney World only a few times as a kid, and on a limited budget. My budget this time was still modest, but I enjoyed being able to treat myself to some Mickey waffles. My trip was great; the staff were so nice to me when I cried due to to a meltdown in a restaurant.
But, then I have to face a world where a vocal minority are hostile to the idea of adults—especially childfree adults—enjoying Disney parks or being Disney fans. Looking through all the unpleasant discourse, it quickly becomes clear that I'm just a scapegoat. When people say they hate "Disney adults," adult Disney fans enjoying entertainment and art, like myself, are not really who they're talking about.
What People Mean When They Talk About "Disney Adults"
I have identified a few possible things people mean when they talk negatively about "Disney adults." I think their reasons for hating have less to do with the actions of the fandom and more to do with their larger (valid) reasons to criticize the company. Of course, there's also less valid bigotry against people with unusual or child-like interests, or bigotry against child-free adults. Class also plays a role here, because the Disney parks are expensive, and they have exclusive experiences only available to the very rich.
Meaning 1: Disney is an Evil Company
Yeah, I get this one. A lot of things in the discourse online, such as the Wisecrack YouTube series, conflate hating on adult Disney fans and criticism of the company's behavior. Which are two different things. But this is probably why adults having other child-associated interests like zoos, dinosaurs, or Spongebob is not met with the same level of hate.
Disney is a company that has done some bad things. They seem like an evil empire, grasping tentacles everywhere in order to monopolize not only childhood entertainment, but the media in general. Disney's influence over the media has grown so much over time, and Disney theme parks are their own cities, and almost feel like going to a separate country entirely within the United States, with its own unique culture and rules.
Being an adult Disney fan, to me, is not about blindly supporting a company that acts like an evil empire. But I also have to ask, what do they do that's so different from what other gigantic mega-corporations do? Is what they do really any more or less evil than the monopolistic grasping of say, Unilever or Nestle? Why is Disney singled out as the go-to example of what everyone hates about American capitalism? That brings me to my next item.
2. I Hate the Disney Brand/Aesthetic
The Disney brand was designed by Walt Disney to be not mindless, but optimistic in a way that might come across as laughably naïve to some. Others are inspired by his vision and his relentless drive to follow that vision. As an autistic person, I see Walt Disney as an inspirational figure who might've been autistic himself; and we share passions for not just animation, but also futuristic urban design and trains!
Sure, he wasn't always nice. You had to be practically be a fascist in the 1930s to work in entertainment without being called a communist. And "practically a fascist" is certainly how animators who worked under him would describe his insane work ethic.
Disney Shamelessly Markets Sentimentality
Basically, I think a lot of people's complaints about Disney adults are really complaints about the soothing, Thomas Kinkade, baby-like aesthetics with which the brand is associated. When your average person thinks of Disney, they're probably not imagining Judge Frollo or the bad guy in The Black Cauldron; they're probably thinking about Bambi and Snow White. In other words, the brand is associated, perhaps unfairly, with an aesthetic that is cute, fuzzy, mushy, and sentimental.
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If you actually watch a lot of Disney, you'll notice that the aesthetics and tone of their films varies quite a bit. But, that's their brand and they sell themselves on it. Cuteness and light. And in a world increasingly ruled by darkness and despair, it just doesn't seem like it fits anymore.
Light in a World of Darkness
But you know what was a world of darkness and despair? The 1930s. The Great Depression. The Dust Bowl. World War Two following it. Walt Disney did not pioneer his animation style and company because things were going good and everything was easy and he therefore stuck to soft, cuddly art.
Quite the opposite. Earlier Disney films such as Snow White and Pinocchio have scary sequences that clearly underscore the darkness that was rattling around in his head. But because these films are about how good, when persistent, can always overcome evil, these tales are seen as childish and too morally simplistic for the present day.
But, the present day is in many ways similar to the 1930s. He made cartoons in a dark world to lighten the mood, not because he believed light was all that there was; or, that people couldn't handle films that were more complicated. Rather than rejecting Disney as a "childish" brand, we should recognize that people are drawn to the power of positivity the more things get dark.
3. I Hate Childfree Adults/Think They Don't Belong in Disney Parks
The "Disney adult" discussion was first sparked a while back by a complaint about a woman daring to stand in line for churros, with no brats in tow (none to be seen close by, anyhow). This peeved the kid-having woman in line behind her, who complained online, and her complaint was echoed by a chorus of sympathizers agreeing that "Disney adults" were creepy, cringe, and just didn't feel like they belonged in Disney parks.
I can't change someone's perception of me from "cringe" to "not cringe" and I'm not going to try. But, what I can tell you, is that everyone who pays for a ticket belongs in the Disney parks. Disney, the big soulless corporation, wants money, and I don't think they care if that money comes from childfree adults or adults with children. My money is just as good as yours.
What I see here is purely resentment driven by envy. Having accompanied small children at theme parks, I can tell you it's no fun. And at a child-focused place like a Disney park, it can be hard to even find anything to enjoy or appreciate for yourself if you are only going there because your kids demanded it. So they really resent their kids and having them, and are taking that resentment out on us. Not very mature, and not a good look.
4. Disney Parks are Expensive, Ergo Being a Disney Adult is Elitist
This is true; the experiences that make a Disney park trip extra magical cost an extra mortgage, and just doing the "vanilla" experience of a Disney vacation is still difficult to afford for many.
What I don't understand about this aspect of the discussion is, again, why target Disney specifically? I mean, travel agencies, hotels, cruises, resorts, and hell, other theme parks like Universal and Six Flags all do the same thing that Disney does here; charge high prices to vacationers. Because they can.
If you want to have a cheaper vacation in Florida, you can hang out on the beach for free, no one's stopping you. If you can't afford to travel to Disney World, you probably can't afford to go to Cedar Point or Six Flags either. So why is it that people hate Disney World the most?
Disney Perfected the Theme Park
I think it's because it's one of the biggest and most well-recognized brands in the amusement park industry, and it was a company that pioneered theme parks as we think of them today in many ways. Since the first parks of Disney World in Florida and Disneyland in California were opened, there have been numerous imitators and competitors trying to copy the Disney style. But, because they lacked Walt's clear vision and attention to detail, they mostly weren't as good.
Disney parks took the idea of a theme park and elevated it beyond what it had ever been before. They were mostly like a carnival that had parked itself in the middle of nowhere in some rural area. Fun could be had, but not an immersive experience that lets you interact with characters right out of a fairy tale.
With this attention to detail, this careful adherence to actors staying in-character, and the planning that went into the experience of each guest feeling magical, Disney theme parks differentiated themselves in the market. That meant they offered something unique to their brand that people wanted. It meant, then, that they could charge more.
Hating Disney and Class Anxiety
I am as mad about socio-economic inequality as anyone else, but I truly don't see the problem. You have a product that is unique and people want it, so you increase the price. Then you use that money to make your product even better. Then that improvement makes people want it more, and thus you get to increase the price. This cycle happens everywhere with everything and is just basic economics. You won't see it gotten rid of until we get rid of capitalism altogether, and that might be a while.
In the meantime, I'm not going to throw away my cute, soft Eeyore and Thumper t-shirts. They're just so fun to sleep in.
Like What You Like
So yeah, I'm not about to let other people tell me what I can and can't like. I'm not a naive servant to a uniquely evil corporation. I'm a person who likes things, and sometimes expresses that liking by buying stuff. Everyone likes things, and most people express that like through buying things. Again, I just don't get what everyone thinks is so uniquely evil about liking Disney. Or cringe. Or whatever.
I've simply decided that the opinions of others don't matter, because at the end of the day, a lot of the hatred is based on fear, misunderstanding, bullying, and bigotry. A lot of "Disney adults" are probably on the autism spectrum; something never addressed by the critics and haters. So jokes at their expense is potentially punching down at autistic people.
"Age Inappropriate" Interests and Autism
Having "age inappropriate" interests is a common feature of autism. And it's an entirely harmless and innocent behavior only made into a twisted, horrible, nefarious thing by other people's minds. And you know what, I can't control what someone else thinks about me. But I can say:
- I like things.
- Liking things is natural and harmless.
- I'm literally not hurting anyone.
I can also say that I don't care for many common neurotypical interests like sports, TikTok, or reality television. But I don't let my dislike for those things cause me to hate the people who like them. These are separate things. Just like how liking Disney stuff and supporting every damn thing the Disney company ever did, does, or will do are also two separate things.
© 2022 Naomi Starlight